Winter is definitely the best time to dive Port Hedland, since calmer seas mean clearer water.
With 7 m tides and murky water inshore. However, travel a few kilometres offshore, and there is exceptional scuba diving on the numerous reefs and channel markers overgrown with marine life.
Underwater photography may not be brilliant, BUT the marine life is, and the opportunity to discover new species and never before photographed sea creatures makes it all worthwhile, its just a bit harder getting the images.
Dive services run from Port Hedland, and there are charter trips to the offshore islands and reefs. Many shipwrecks are waiting to be located and explored, including the 105 m-long Koombana, which disappeared in 1912.
The town reef at Port Hedland with its wide expances of flat, easily walkable stretches of low profile reeflats is an eco – tourism gold mine. If only locals had the insight to take some value in what was at their back door and develop a Reefwalking eco – tour and take excursions out on the low tides, I believe it could be a boon for the tourists and the operators.
Here, a family is being shown a small green turtle stranded ( as they are on a regular basis) in a tide pool.
My original Marine Life Identification Courses in the early 1980's were very well attended and we all had a ball finding so many creatures and sharing them with the other 30 people out on the reef. We found some really interesting discoveries, but unfortunately the locals at the time were not organised enough to follow up their instruction and actually lobby to have the reefs protected.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
( photo: Neville Coleman)
But travel a few kilometres offshore, and you will find exceptional diving on numerous reefs and channel markers overgrown with marine life. Big Blue Dive services the Port Hedland region, and runs charter trips to the offshore islands and reefs. Many shipwrecks are waiting to be located and explored, including the 105 m-long Koombana, which disappeared in 1912.
The first underwater photograph of this undescribed species taken in north Western Australia, the Dimpled Sea Star Tamaria sp. has also been found on the east coast at Moreton Bay and Mooloolaba. It was originally discovered by the author at Byron Bay, New South Wales in 1975.( photo: Neville Coleman)
Located in only 14 m of water, these barges sank during the construction of an iron ore facility. In the time that these wrecks have been on the bottom, they have attracted a profusion of fish species including queenfish, trevally, angelfish, butterflyfish, sweetlips, morwong and a resident groper.
Not an easy fish to get shots of by any means, the Blue Tuskfish Choerodon cyanodus can be determined by the white spot on its back. It grows to 60 cm and is only found in north west Australia.( photo: Neville Coleman)
Schools of the Magnificent Pearlperch Glaucosoma magnificum are prevelant around many of the channel markers and buoys adjacent to the dredged shipping channels off Port Hedland. Very little underwater photography had been done when I first visited there and I was able to photograph species that had never been published in living form before. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Some of the best diving off Port Hedland is done around the channel markers. Encrusted in corals and sponges, 24 Buoy rises from 18 m. A prodigious array of reef fish and invertebrate species gather around the buoy, and divers are likely to be engulfed by schools of trevally.
This form of what is thought to be a colour variation of the common Ocellate nudibranch Phyllidia ocellata was first photographed by Wally Rowlands.
At the time there was a lot of controversy as to its true identification and it may still turn out to be an undescribed species.( photo: Wally Rowlands)
The first ever photographic record of the Piggy – back Brittle Star Ophiomaza cacaotica taken in situ beneath its host, the Wheel Feather Star Comatularia rotalaria.( photo: Wally Rowlands)
Another rarely photographed species is the Red – stripe Wrasse Choerodon vitta. Strangely enough the red stripe seems to appear after the fish is dead. ( most fish species were described on dead and often preserved specimens) However, the yellow face, blue cheek bar and dark spot on the caudal peduncle are standard recognition features on images of living fish.( photo: Neville Coleman)
Weerdee Island Trench
Between Weerdee Island and Downer Island lies a trench which drops from 6-12 m. This trench, lined with hard and soft corals, is home to many reef fish and invertebrates, including rock lobsters.
The colour patterning on the north Western Australian forms of Co's Chromodoris Chromodoris coi is extremely well definded. This species occurs throughout the Indo – Pacific where it reaches a size of 60 mm. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
A number of shoals are situated off Port Hedland, including Minilya Bank, at 6-12 m. Drift diving this coral-covered reef, you will see nudibranchs, stingrays, molluscs, sea stars, moray eels, wrasse, parrotfish and large schools of pelagic fish.
Blue is not a common colour in marine invertebrates and this beautiful colony of the colonial ascidian Nephtheis fascicularis has a very definite blue dash on each zooid and translucent blue casings, attached to a translucent blue stalk.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
Little Turtle Island
The shallow coral gardens around Little Turtle Island are wonderful dive sites. Gutters and caves are found at 6-14 m. Expect to see sweetlips, morwong, batfish, parrotfish, angelfish, wobbegongs, stingrays, moray eels and perhaps a turtle.
The first in situ photographic record of the Margined Octopus Octopus marginatus in north Western Australian waters. It occurs across the Indo – Pacific from China to South Africa, Indonesia and has an arm spread of over 30 cm.
( photo; Wally Rowlands)
Bedout Island offers some of the areas best diving. Around the island, in depths to 30 m, are pinnacles, drop-offs, gutters, caves and ledges. Coral growth is good, and invertebrates and reef fish are plentiful. Turtles, pelagic fish, stingrays and reef sharks are common.
Found on the low profile reefs off Ten Buoy this really unique – looking sea star lives on muddy rubble areas across northern Australia. The Swollen Sea Star Tamaria tumescens grows to around 130 mm across the arms.
( photo: Neville Coleman)
Found at 10 metres off Ten Buoy, this Ornate Dermatobranchus Dermatobranchus ornatus was still high up in the branches of the gorgonian sea fan it was feeding on. It was the first time I had encountered such a fantastic looking nudibranch and I was not surfacing without getting as many shots as possible. The problem was that there were so many creatures down there, that were new to me, I ran out of film before I ran out of air. ( photo: Neville Coleman)
Neville Coleman's diving expeditions, fauna surveys, photographic fauna surveys and marine life identification courses include every major group of marine life.
Neville Coleman's expertise in marine life identification extends to the identification of Algae, Sea Grass, Forams, Sponges, Stony Corals, Soft Corals, Sea Anemones, Sea Jellies, Zoanthids, Corallimorphs, Black Corals, Flatworms, Segmented Worms, Crustaceans, Barnacles, Shrimps, Rock Lobsters, Hermit Crabs, Squat Lobsters, Molluscs, Chitons, Univalves, Bivalves, Cephalopods, Octopus, Cuttlefish, Squid, Opisthobranchs, Nudibranchs, Sea Slugs, Bryozoans, Sea Mosses, Echinoderms, Sea Stars, Feather Stars, Brittle Stars, Sea Urchins, Sea Cucumbers, Ascidians/Sea Squirts, Marine Fish, Sharks Marine Reptiles and Marine Mammals, all found in the waters around the reefs off Port Hedland.
( Copyright Neville Coleman/Nigel Marsh)